Gans Tire Sales Co., Inc. v. City of Chelsea

Citation450 N.E.2d 668,16 Mass.App.Ct. 947
PartiesGANS TIRE SALES CO., INC. v. CITY OF CHELSEA (and four companion cases).
Decision Date06 July 1983
CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts

Joseph L. Doherty, Jr., Boston, for Gans Tire Sales Co., Inc. and others.

Stephen H. Lash, Boston, for Gibbs Oil Co. & another.

Ira H. Zaleznik, Boston, for city of Chelsea.

Before HALE, C.J., and ROSE and BROWN, JJ.


After the plaintiffs in these consolidated actions had completed their opening statements a judge of the Superior Court allowed the defendant city of Chelsea's motion for directed verdicts. This is an appeal from the resulting judgments entered in each action.

The facts alleged in the opening statements of the plaintiffs are as follows. On May 22, 1974, a fire broke out at the American Barrel Company, Inc., in Chelsea. As the fire spread through the American Barrel plant radiant heat from the flames caused damage to, or destruction of, the plaintiffs' buildings and personal property. The plaintiffs contended that the city of Chelsea was negligent in maintaining its water supply system; specifically, that the supply of water to the plaintiffs' sprinkler systems was not sufficient, and, as a result, the sprinkler systems were not able to contain or reduce the effects of the fire on the plaintiffs' property.

The issue before us is whether the plaintiffs' actions are barred as matter of law by the doctrine of municipal immunity. The present G.L. c. 258 has no application to the circumstances of this case, as the incident occurred prior to its amendment. See St.1978, c. 512, § 16; Lumarose Equip. Corp. v. Springfield, 15 Mass.App. 517, 523, 446 N.E.2d 1087 (1983). Thus, the narrow question here is whether the city of Chelsea was acting "for the common good of all without the element of special corporate benefit or pecuniary profit. If it [was], there is no liability; if it [was] not, there may be liability." Whitney v. Worcester, 373 Mass. 208, 214, 366 N.E.2d 1210 (1977), quoting from Bolster v. Lawrence, 225 Mass. 387, 390, 117 N.E. 722 (1917).

The plaintiffs argue that the water was to be supplied as the result of a commercial relationship; therefore, the consumption would be commercial in nature. We do not agree. The plaintiffs stated no facts in their openings which demonstrated in the instant circumstances a commercial or proprietary function on the part of the city of Chelsea. Regardless of how the plaintiffs try to characterize their sprinkler systems, the city was providing water for use in the sprinklers for fire protection. "A municipality operating waterworks pursues that activity in a dual capacity. So far as it undertakes to sell water for private consumption the city engages in commercial venture, functions as any other business corporation, and is liable for the negligence of its employees. In so far, however, as the municipality undertakes to supply water to extinguish fires, it acts in a governmental capacity and cannot be held liable for negligence on the part of its employees." Nashville Trust Co. v. Nashville, 182 Tenn. 545, 549, 188...

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3 cases
  • Wells v. City of Lynchburg, 2847.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 18 May 1998
    ...tort liability for inadequate water supply where valve to city water line was not fully open); Gans Tire Sales Co. v. City of Chelsea, 16 Mass.App.Ct. 947, 450 N.E.2d 668 (1983) (actions against city for negligently failing to supply sufficient water to sprinkler systems to avert fire damag......
  • Travelers Excess and Surplus Lines Co. v. City of Atlanta, A09A0025.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 6 April 2009
    ...Investments v. Dept. of Water & Power, 170 Cal.App.3d 1, 6-9(I), 215 Cal.Rptr. 812 (1985); Gans Tire Sales Co. v. City of Chelsea, 16 Mass.App.Ct. 947, 450 N.E.2d 668, 669 (1983); City of Columbus v. McIlwain, 205 Miss. 473, 38 So.2d 921, 923 (1949); Shockey v. City of Oklahoma City, 632 P.......
  • Gans Tire Sales Co., Inc. v. City of Chelsea
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 12 September 1983
    ...City of Chelsea Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Sept 12, 1983 Mr. Chief Justice Hennessey did not participate. 16 Mass.App. 947, 450 N.E.2d 668, ...

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